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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

Cowboys & Aliens

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4_Chicks_Small Judy Thorburn

Las Vegas Round The Clock -
Women's Film Critic Circle -
Nevada Film Critics Society -
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Cowboys & Aliens

If you like westerns and also sci fi movies, especially the alien invasion kind, Cowboys & Aliens (based on the  graphic novel of the same name by Scott Mitchell Rosenberg) combines the two genres into one highly anticipated summer movie. Actually, Cowboys, Indians and Aliens would be a more fitting title.

The story is set in the Old West, in and around a small desolate town of Absolution, New Mexico circa 1875. Daniel Craig, channeling a young Clint Eastwood's 'Man With No Name', plays Jake Lonegran, a cowboy, who in the opening scene, wakes up in the desert outskirts with a bloodied wound on his side and amnesia.  He has no memory of  his past, who he is, how he got there, or how a mysterious looking shackle, that he is unable to remove, was placed on his left wrist.

What we quickly learn is that Jake is the silent but deadly type, a guy with little words but packs a mean punch if anyone gets on his wrong side. After fighting off a gang of thugs and taking their horse and gun he rides into town inhabited by an assortment of characters, who have no idea what impact Jake would soon have on their lives.

The towns residents include Percy (Paul Dano) the nasty, spoiled son of gruff, wealthy cattle rancher, Colonel Dolarhyde (Harrison Ford) who is after Jake for stealing his gold.  Percy gets a kick out of harassing townsfolk, that is, until Jake intervenes.  Doc (Sam Rockwell) is the cowardly saloon keeper with a pretty Latina wife ((Ana de la Reguera). And there is a mysterious, beautiful woman named Ella (Olivia Wilde) following Jake around that is harboring a secret.

After Meachem (Clancy Brown), the town preacher, tends to Jake's wound, it doesn't take too long before, Sheriff Taggart (Keith Carradine) recognizes Jake as a man wanted for robbery and murder. An arrest comes next with the sheriff hoping to turn Jake over to the feds. That all goes to the wayside when something more fearful, dangerous and life threatening comes down, and I do mean down.  Suddenly, out of nowhere, strange lights appear in the sky that proves to be a forewarning of an alien invasion. Extraterrestrial spacecrafts begin attacking using explosive weapons and grabbing up those trying to run for shelter with a rope (lasso style) that sends them flying though the sky and into their crafts. Among the abducted are Percy,  Doc's wife, and the Sheriff, who leaves behind his young grandson, Emmett (Noah Ringer).

But all is not lost.  Lucky for the town inhabitants, Jake is in their midst as their potential savior. That  strange looking device on Jake's wrist turns out to be a very handy, powerful weapon against the monstrous aliens. Needless to say, several of the townsfolk, Dolarhyde, his men including his son-like Indian cowhand Nat Colorado (Adam Beach), and eventually a band of outlaws and Apache tribe, put their differences aside and are forced to join forces with Jake in a battle against a common enemy.

Meanwhile, Jake is still yearning for answers as to his identity.  Via glimpses into his memory through flashbacks, clues begins to surface that give him insight into his past including a personal, up close experience with the monstrous creatures from another world.

Under the direction of Jon Favreau (Iron Man) the film is slow moving at first, but the pace picks up with the aliens' attack. From there on, Cowboys and Aliens transforms from your typical western to a War of the Worlds type sci fi action adventure.  Yet, it has many of the formulaic elements of an old western flick in which a mysterious stranger comes to town and saves the residents from the bad guys. Only this time the bad guys are not red blooded killers, but ugly, green blooded killers from outer space.  During the battle scenes several humans die, and others find in themselves what it takes to become heroic. Naturally, sacrifice and redemption come into play.

I guess you could say it is cool to see James Bond and Indiana Jones join forces.  But Harrison Ford isn't in Indiana Jones mode and plays Dolarhyde as a one note grumpy old man with an unmatched chemistry between him and the younger dead pan faced Craig. Also, just after we become invested in several interesting characters - the Sheriff, Percy and Doc – they disappear and are left out of most of the film.

I guess with no less than five screenwriters working on the script, there had to be problems, and there are. That doesn't mean Cowboys and Indians isn't worth seeing. I like the idea of blending western and sci fi, and the special effects, visuals, and action sequences are exciting and suspenseful. It just doesn't live up to the awesome hype.  The flick is a decent piece of entertainment, just not out of this world great.

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